Study Guide

Henry IV Part 2 Introduction

By William Shakespeare

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Henry IV Part 2 Introduction

Read the full text of Henry IV Part 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.

Written by William Shakespeare between 1596 and 1599, Henry IV Part 2 is a history play that continues the story of the reign of King Henry IV, ending with his death and the succession of his son, King Henry V (a.k.a. Hal). In the play, Prince Hal comes to terms with his father's death and prepares to leave behind his rowdy old friends before becoming the king who will uphold justice and restore civil order in England.

The play is part of a tetralogy (four plays), which is also known as the "Henriad," a cycle of plays that span the reigns of King Richard II, King Henry IV, and Henry V. (Henry IV Part 2 is preceded by Richard II and Henry IV Part 1 and is followed by Henry V.)

Shakespeare's main source for the play is Raphael Holinshed's history Chronicles and an early play of unknown authorship called The Famous Victories of Henry V. Shakespeare may have also borrowed from Samuel Daniel's poem "The Civil Wars."

Both Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2 weave together "high" historical matters of state and the comedic and fictional antics of characters like Falstaff and Mistress Quickly. The wild tavern scenes and the original character, Falstaff, are among the most beloved and written about issues in literary history.

The play was written during the latter part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and many of its themes and concerns resonate with late 16th century political concerns, particularly the anxiety revolving around the question of succession. The commonwealth wondered what would happen when Queen Elizabeth I died – she was advanced in age by 1597 and had no children to inherit the crown.

What is Henry IV Part 2 About and Why Should I Care?

Why should you care about Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2? The real question is "Why shouldn't you care?" First, they are the very first history plays to blend rowdy comedy and historical drama. High matters of state mingled with low-brow mayhem and carousing? Nothin' wrong with that. Plus, Henry IV Part 1 introduces one of the greatest and most talked about comedic figures of all time: Falstaff, who has inspired everything from Verdi's opera to the name of a U.S. brewing company. (You know you're in for a really good time when you attend a play that's got a character with beer named after him.) The play's also the inspiration for some seriously important cult classic films, like Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho and Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight.

Still not impressed? Fine. We'll fall back on the old standard and talk about how the play's concerned with themes that are still relevant today: rebellion, power, honor, warfare, family drama, redemption, and our personal favorite, growing up. Let's focus on that last one.

When it comes down to it, the Henry IV plays are a coming-of-age story about Prince Hal, who's got to figure out a way to grow up in the public spotlight with a seriously judgmental father breathing down his neck. (Come on, the kid's dad has been running around saying he wishes Hal had been switched at birth by fairies and that God sent the Hal to earth just to punish the king for his past sins. That's so brutal.) While most of us have no idea what it's like to be a prince who's expected to change his wild ways and prepare to lead a country that's troubled by civil war, we all know what it's like to negotiate the pitfalls of adolescence and the pressures of outside scrutiny (whether it's under the watchful eye of hopeful parents, strict teachers, coaches, or peers).

Like Prince Hal, we've all made mistakes, and most of us also know what it's like to feel as though we've disappointed or let down those whose opinions matter the most. So, imagine all that pressure you've felt over the years and multiply it by an entire, war-torn kingdom that's pinned all its hopes and dreams for the future on you. That's a whole lot of pressure. Even if we think Prince Hal sometimes acts like a brat, we can't help but root for him. So, what do you think? Is it fair to say that Shakespeare gets this whole growing up thing? We kind of thought you'd see it our way.


Henry IV Part 2 Resources


Folger Shakespeare
Check out Shakespeare's biography and read about Elizabethan theater at this site.

Henry IV Biography
Biographical information about the historical King Henry's life and reign.

Prince Hal (a.k.a. King Henry V) Biography
Want to know more about the historical Prince Hal? Check out this website.

Shakespeare Concordance
Awesome tool for all students to look up words in any of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets.

MIT's The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
Read Henry IV Part 2 online. Warning: There aren't any footnotes but this is good in a pinch.

Movie or TV Productions

Henry IV, Part 2, 1990
The English Shakespeare Company's production, directed by Michael Bogdanov is available in most libraries on DVD and VHS as part of a larger collection, The War of the Roses, which chronicles Shakespeare's history plays. You can also watch the whole thing on YouTube.

Chimes at Midnight, 1965
Also known as Falstaff, Chimes at Midnight (a.k.a. Campanadas a Medianoche ) is Orson Welles' 1965 film adaptation of the Henry plays. A cool film, but don't depend on this if you're preparing for a quiz on the play text. (Welles conflates Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, Richard II, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Holinshed's Chronicles to paint a portrait of a "tragic" Falstaff.) This film can be hard to get hold of so your best bet is to watch the whole thing on YouTube.

BBC, 1979
The BBC's production is smart and mostly faithful to the text of the play but it's also pretty dark and depressing. Anthony Quayle gives a stellar performance as Falstaff.

Historical Documents

Holinshed's Chronicles
One of Shakespeare's main sources for both Henry plays is Volume III of Holinshed's Chronicles (1587). You can check out Project Gutenberg's e-text of the 1808 edition online.

The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth
Another source for Shakespeare's Henriad is the pre-1588 play The Famous Victories of Henry V, which chronicles Hal's life during his father's reign and his own. Check it out here.

Homily Against Rebellion and Willful Disobedience
For a better understanding of how Shakespeare's Elizabethan audience might have approached the play's representation of rebellion, check out this authorized (by the monarch) sermon, which was read in churches on a regular basis during Queen Elizabeth's reign. Rebellion, according to the Elizabethan worldview, was a "great a sin against God."


Punk Rock Doll Tearsheet
This is a great clip from the tavern scene in Act 2, Scene 4.

Prince Hal and King Henry Reconcile
Check out the English Shakespeare Company's 1990 production on YouTube.

The Rejection of Falstaff
From Chimes at Midnight. Check out Orson Welles's production of Hal's rejection of Falstaff in the second half of this ten-minute clip.

Anthony Quayle's Falstaff
Falstaff takes a prisoner and delivers a speech praising wine. From Act 4, Scene 3.


Listen to the entire play, FREE
Check out Speak-the-Speech: Universal Shakespeare Broadcasting.


Map of Britain
You might want to print out this useful map of Britain denoting major locations for Shakespeare's plays. Tip: Use your cursor to enlarge the map.

Original Title Page of the Play
Check out this image of the 1600 quarto title page of Henry IV Part 2.

Falstaff and his Page
Adolf Schrödter's "Falstaff und sein Page" (1867).

Doll Tearsheet and Falstaff
Photograph from the Marin Shakespeare Company's 2007 performance of Henry IV Part 2.

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